Title: Persona 5
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), PS3
Publisher: Atlus, Deep Silver, Atlus USA
Price: PS4; £55/$60 PS3: £40/$50
TL;DR: An absolute goddamned masterpiece, and I haven’t even finished it yet.
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What do I say about Persona 5?
Persona 5 has been a long time coming; Winter 2014, anybody? It’s also had a hell of a reputation to live up to. Persona 3 became a cult hit, and then Persona 4 roared in on the tidal wave of a lot of hype and a few million spin-offs.
Persona 5 could have been a disappointment. Persona 5 could have been downright terrible.
Instead, Persona 5 knocked it out of the park, and straight out into the stratosphere.
I’d like to start off by saying this isn’t a full review. Moreover, this is a one hour tour, or, rather, a 27 hour tour, because I’ve only just started Makoto’s dungeon, because I have to be an actual adult and do boring things like work. Like its previous iterations, this is a dense game, and it’d take me far too long to review the entire thing right now. So I’m passing judgement on everything but the plot as a whole.
Sound good? Let’s go.
Everything about this game is beautifully nuanced, polished, and detailed. The sprites are all designed to be unique and eye catching, making the characters something memorable, rather than bland. Everyone brings personality to the screen, and they’ve each got their own flavour, without being eyerollingly annoying (Morgana being the exception). The dungeons are tailored to their masters, to the point where the randomly generated mazes of Persona 3 and 4 seem like a distant band dream. Hell, even the loading screens are intricate and downright beautiful to look at.
One thing’s for sure – those delays were worth it.
Quite literally everything has been improved. Atlus looked at what they had, and built on it, rather than changing it for the sake of it. The flat, cartoonish art style makes the colours pop and the dialogue thrive. The locations burst with life and more options to interact with the environment than ever. More Confidants, more dialogue choices, even more ways to make the Persona gameplay truly yours.
The combat is one of the deeper examples of this. No more of the same four walls with nothing but the same Shadows every three feet; instead, they’re all intricately tailored to whoever it is you’re taking down. They feel like actual environments the crew are exploring, rather than just a slow, monotonous slog to the finish – seriously, tackle a main dungeon, then go through Mementos. If you want nostalgia, head on over there. If you want actual fun dungeons, go play them; the difference is astounding.
Demon negotiation is back, and it blends in so well with the central theme and tone of the game, it easily makes up for the frustrating aspects. Not only is it an easy way to gain items and extra cash, it adds more depth and flavour than a simple All Out Attack. The only downside is the constant stumbling through questions to get them to co-operate – sympathising or agreeing with them doesn’t often work, with very little indication as to what the correct answer is. Nonetheless, thematically, it works, and I can’t be unimpressed by it.
Exploration, too, has been kicked up to new levels – the entire city is humming with life, and more and more locations keep unlocking. There’s so much to do, it’s overwhelming, and this is slightly hampered by the constant harping on of Morgana to go to sleep if you’ve done one activity after school. I know all Persona games have done this, but maybe it’s time to start introducing more time slots, or staggering them? I know the point of the game is time management and actively encourages a New Game +, but it’s still something of a hotly debated issue.
But this is nitpicking. This game is a straight up delight; everything feels so slick and polished and lovingly made, the delays suddenly make sense. We’ve got a damn good group of characters who have been breaking my expectations of them at every turn (I take back every negative thought I had about Makoto), and from what little I’ve seen of the plot so far, it seems damn solid. It also seems to be going for a surprisingly dark angle; the subject matter covered so explicitly in the first few hours of the game is far beyond what this series has done before. Forget implications, we get to see it right on screen; Persona 4, aka “the happiest game ever about murder,” didn’t even show the bodies of the victims. Persona 5… doesn’t really give a shit. And it’s glorious.
I’ll be back with my final verdict once I’ve finished, but I highly, highly recommend this game. It’s the JRPG you’ve been waiting for.
Persona 5 is rated PEGI 16 and M for Mature across the pond. There’s swearing, the threat of real violence, and dark themes aplenty – don’t give it to your kids.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail copy for the PS4 purchased for the purpose of this review.